Whenever the government proposes changes to our Jeeping trails and access, “comments” are solicited from the public. Learning to write comments (letters) the right way makes all the difference. Here’s a tutorial that we want to share with you at least once a year. First published here in July 2018. Please use this to your (and our) advantage.
HOW to WRITE to BUREAUCRATS and POLITICIANS and MAKE a DIFFERENCE!
“You can’t convert a snake into a statesman by simply snipping his fangs; the instinct to bite will always be there!”
How on earth do you capture the attention of a bureaucrat so that your recreation-oriented letter doesn’t end up in the proverbial “stack” of unread letters? Perhaps it’s not fair to say unread; let’s say “sort of read but unheeded.” I suggest you tell them about the snake.
Telling elected officials about our passion for our trails and access, even when that starts out as a meeting on hay bales like here with people who love the Rubicon Trail and want to keep it open! Let bureaucrats and politicians know of your passion — and be substantive by addressing facts in your written comments.
I’ve been writing letters to bureaucrats (and happen to have been one), so I’d like to offer some advice. Oh, you ask, what the heck is with the snake business at the start? Well, that’s a phrase I coined after watching some of our politicians in action. Mostly it’s there to get your attention so you’ll read this article!
Tip #1: NAIL IT UP FRONT.
The first tip for writing letters to bureaucrats (including elected officials) is to get their attention up front — make your point in the first sentence. If you place yourself in the shoes of an ostensibly busy government official, perhaps reading tons of mail every day, and nowadays maybe even spending hours reading emails, then you’ll soon realize that there just isn’t enough time in the day.
If a letter doesn’t hone in immediately on the salient points, those points might be missed.
My suggestion is to start your letter with your primary reason for writing. For example, if you’re going to write to your elected official to say that you are opposed to a piece of Wilderness legislation that is going to close a bunch of roads, then start out by saying so: “I am writing to let you know that I oppose (whatever) legislation.”
Lay out the facts you have collected and talk about meetings you have attended.
Tip #2: SAY SOMETHING NICE.
Immediately after stating your position, you may want to say something nice. A lot of times it really pays to compliment the efforts so far, if appropriate. It lets the reader know that you’re not just slamming his/her current work.
It might read like this: “I appreciate the time and effort you and your staff have devoted to this issue, and I know you have given this (whatever) a lot of thought.” By doing this you acknowledge and validate the fact that they’re not just sitting around playing cribbage. Then move on to some bullet point type facts that are substantive to the issue.
“Substantive” means one that the Forest Service or BLM will be obligated to consider seriously. It is also a comment that will stand up during the appeal process, and will also be applicable for a possible legal appeal. To do this you address facts, bad science, their studies referenced in any document, and anything else that you know challenges what you know! Please just don’t say un-substantive things like, “don’t close my trails.”
Meetings are a part of life when it comes to saving trails and keeping our sports alive. If you can’t make meetings, support someone or some group who can!
One BLM paper I found had this explanation: A substantive comment provides new information about the Proposed Action, an alternative or the analysis; identifies a different way to meet the need; points out a specific flaw in the analysis; suggests alternate methodologies and the reason(s) why they should be used; makes factual corrections, or identifies a different source of credible research which, if used in the analysis, could result in different effects.”
Tip #3: LAY OUT YOUR FACTS.
Now you need to lay out your facts in simple form — easy to read — visually capturing. And believe me, as a (retired) 30-year bureaucrat, I can attest to the visual effect of bullet points in a letter. And you must have concrete “stuff” to offer – facts, figures, your personal experience with the issue that is substantive. And bullet points work to do this because:
→* They stand out and get the point across quickly.
→* They draw the eye to focus on them immediately as the salient points.
→* They are easy to find again when the reader wants to refer to your letter and your key points.
You can also use numbers if you want to show some sense of priority. But the point is, make your key messages stand out in the letter. Then after you bullet point your key facts, elaborate on each one of them in succeeding paragraphs. Use attachments if needed, or even appendices so as to keep your cover letter short and to the point.
Tip #4: GET PERSONAL ABOUT YOU.
Depending on the topic, you may have to establish your credentials at this point (or even earlier on if that works better). If you are an experienced in your sport, let the reader know your background. If you are a member of organizations, then point it out.
Get personal about you, your family and what outdoor things you do, like catching a big fish or seeing new country. (Stacie Albright’s big bass)
Tip #5: CLOSE WITH A SUMMARY.
Close your letter with a summary of the key message you’ve presented, and of course your specific request for their action. Many bureaucrats will read the opening paragraph; the bullet points; and the closing sentence or two. This is called “speed reading” to some folks.
It’s more like “convenience reading” to me. But this is what it might sound like: “Let me close by restating that I very much oppose (whatever legislation) because I feel this legislation really denies the public the opportunity to enjoy our public lands; and I request that you vote against it when it comes before you.”
Tip #6: PLEASANT SALUTATION.
Lastly, it never hurts to leave the reader with a pleasant salutation and an offer to help. For example, you might say: “Thank you for your time. If I may be of some help to you on this issue, please let me know.”
Further, if you want to be included in future mailings, or be notified of any actions affecting your area of concern, include that comment in the salutation.
Here is a sample letter:
Washington DC 00000
Dear Congressperson ______:
I am writing to let you know that I am opposed to legislation XYZ that could close roads in the southern California desert.
I appreciate the efforts of you and your staff thus far with all the legislation that has come before you. I know you are working hard to keep the interests of the public first in your mind. However, there are too many bills before you now that are threatening to take away our rights to use public land.
As I see it, there are three important points that you should consider:
1. The opportunity for motorized recreation has been severely limited by previous legislation; nearly ____ miles of roads have already been closed;
2. The number of back country recreationists and off-road enthusiasts is growing every day; nearly a __% increase in our local club alone.
3. Many of the roads in the desert have been there since the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and are the only realistic way to see the many historic and cultural resources in the back country.
4. This legislation will take away $$$$$$ in revenue to the local communities that motorized recreation brings.
I am a registered voter in your district and I have been exploring the back country for over thirty years. I have yet to place a tire where it didn’t belong. I want my children to enjoy the same opportunities to explore the desert and its vast expanses of scenic wonder — by vehicle.
Most of us who adventure in the back country are responsible recreationists and deserve the right to continue our sport.
I am member in good standing of xyz clubs and organizations. We recreate responsible and live by a code of ethics.
Let me close by saying again that I am opposed to any legislation that might close any more roads in the southern California desert. I request that you vote against legislation XYZ.
I would also like to be included on your mailing list and notified of any actions that affect this area.
If I may be of any help, or provide you with any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for your time.
you….and your phone number, email address, and address.
Here is a summary of the tips I have offered you:
→1. State your key message right up front, in the first sentence.
→2. Say something nice and acknowledge previous and ongoing efforts.
→3. Lay out your facts in bullet point form; be substantive.
→4. Establish your credentials (if necessary).
→5. Close by summarizing your key message and requesting specific action.
→6. Include a pleasant salutation and a sincere offer to help.
Hand-written letters probably get more attention than any other form. But if that is not in your game, just do a nice letter — but not a form letter. They will not get read.
Use these six tips and you will be successful in getting the attention of your elected officials and bureaucrats.
More from ModernJeeper on getting involved in saving trails here.